Blind Pioneer: Morris Frank

Buddy was the first seeing-eye dog.

Morris Frank was the first person to be partnered with a seeing eye dog. He became a passionate activist whose devotion to his canine companion Buddy led to the widespread acceptance of guide dogs throughout America and the world.

Born to a prominent Jewish family in Nashville, Tennessee in 1908, Morris’ life story demonstrates the adage “truth is stranger than fiction.”

As a child, he was the primary helper for his mother, Jessie Hirsch Frank, who was blind. Jessie had lost an eye in two separate accidents. Incredibly, Morris would also lose an eye in two separate accidents.

When he was six, he lost an eye in a horseback riding incident, and when he was sixteen, he lost the other eye while boxing with a friend.

When Morris was 19, his father read him an article by Dorothy Eustis, an American dog trainer, about blinded World War I veterans in Germany who were starting to work with guide dogs. This was the turning point in Morris’ life.

He immediately wrote a letter to Eustis: “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own.”

Eustis responded, asking if Morris would come all the way to her dog-training school in Switzerland to work with a dog. He answered, “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell.”

Morris reached Switzerland in 1928 and was matched with a German Shepherd he named “Buddy.”

They became an efficient team and traveled together to New York, where Morris showed fascinated reporters how he could cross the busiest streets with Buddy’s help.

He sent a telegram to Eustis with only one word: “Success.”

People were amazed at what Morris and Buddy could do. Morris later recalled the time he got a free train ride: “The conductor told me he had watched me come down the platform, get on the train and take my seat, and he said that no blind man in the world could do that.” Morris popped out his artificial eyes to prove that he was indeed blind, and had Buddy lead him to another seat. The conductor was so shocked that he didn’t take Morris’ ticket.

In 1929, at age 21, Morris co-founded, with Dorothy Eustis, the first guide-dog school in the United States. It was called “The Seeing Eye,” from Proverbs 20:12: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye – the Lord hath made them both.”

The school started in Morris’ hometown of Nashville, and later moved to Morristown, New Jersey. For the next thirty years, Morris and “Buddy” traveled throughout the United States and Canada, raising awareness of the benefits of seeing eye dogs, and advocating for equal access laws. The original Buddy died in 1938, and was hailed as a national hero. Morris named every successive dog “Buddy” in his honor.

Morris and Buddy were highly effective in their mission. In 1928, Buddy was not allowed to ride with Frank in the passenger compartments of trains; by 1935 every single railroad company in America had a policy permitting guide dogs to ride with their owners. By 1939 the vast majority of American hotels allowed guide dogs.

Morris credited Buddy with more than just his independence – the dog helped him make friends. He said that previously people did not know how to talk to him. “They did not wish to be rude. They just did not know how to bring me in without referring to my blindness. With Buddy there, it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world for them to say, ‘What a lovely dog you have!’”

Morris and Buddy visited the White House three times, where they were welcomed by presidents Coolidge, Hoover, and Truman. By 1956, every state in the country had laws ensuring that blind people could bring their seeing eye dogs to public spaces.

Morris retired from The Seeing Eye that year, and founded his own insurance agency in Morristown, where he worked for the rest of his life.

For revolutionizing the way blind people live and are treated, and proving that dogs truly are “man’s best friend,” we honor Morris Frank and Buddy as this week’s Thursday Heroes.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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